Peak & Prairie
February / March 1998
Spanish Peaks Wilderness Bill
Introduced in House; Senate Action Needed
by Mark Pearson, Wilderness Committee Co-Chair
In June, 1997, Representatives Scott McInnis (R-CO) and David Skaggs (D-CO) introduced H.R. 1865, the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Act of 1997. The 18,000-acre roadless area is located along the southern Front Range between the towns of La Veta and Trinidad. Permanent protection for the Spanish Peaks has been a twenty-year goal for Colorado conservationists, a goal whose success is inching ever closer. House hearings on H.R. 1865 are expected early in 1998, but citizens need to contact Senators Wayne Allard (R-CO) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) to urge sponsorship of companion Senate legislation.
The Spanish Peaks are a National Natural Landmark in recognition of their unique pattern of volcanic dikes that radiate outward from the peaks like the spokes of a wheel. East and West Spanish Peaks constitute the easternmost peaks of the Rocky Mountains. These attributes create unique conditions for endemic plant communities. Lofty 13,626-foot West Spanish Peak creates a prominent landmark visible across the high plains for many miles.
The 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act created the Spanish Peaks Planning Area and directed the US Forest Service to evaluate the cost and likelihood for acquisition of approximately 825 acres of private land in 7 parcels. These private parcels created concern that Spanish Peaks could not be successfully administered as wilderness if designated as such because private land owners might propose development activities on their private land that conflicted with goals of wilderness management. The Forest Service study was completed and distributed in 1995. Congress further directed that Spanish Peaks receive protection for an interim 3-year period. This interim protection period expired in August, 1996.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service has acquired two key interior parcels comprising 250 acres. In addition, the two largest remaining parcels (200 acres and 207 acres) are situated on the area's boundary and are readily excluded from the proposed wilderness. Another 80-acre parcel has been offered to the Forest Service as part of a pending land exchange. An additional 30-acre parcel of patented mining claims has been excluded from the proposed boundary by "cherrystemming" a four-wheel drive road to it. This leaves just 55 acres of patented mining claims in one block as the remaining private fee property within the wilderness boundary. The issue of private lands within the proposed wilderness has for all intents and purposes been successfully addressed.
The House bill, H.R. 1865, is a brief bill that designates Spanish Peaks as wilderness by simply amending the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act. Because Spanish Peaks is a headwaters area and does not contain private water rights, the amendment ensures that the same administrative provisions addressing water rights apply equally to Spanish Peaks as to the other areas designated in the 1993 Act.
No other resource conflicts exist that might cause objection to wilderness designation. The area is already closed to motorized vehicles; mineral potential is rated as extremely marginal; and the Forest Service has no plans for timber management.
What You Can Do:
Write Senators Allard and Campbell and encourage them to cosponsor H.R. 1865, the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Bill. Also, write and thank Rep. McInnis and Rep. Skaggs for their leadership on this issue. Addresses are here.